Saturday, October 22, 2011

Free "Won't"

It turns out it is all in your head!

In our culture, we hear a lot about "free will." It has all kinds of connotations: social, religious, political, parental! We are told, often, "It's your choice," or the parental opposite, "Well you chose to do that. You have free will. If little Timmy jumped off the roof, would you?"

I don't know about you, but I have - at times - basically bought into the notion that I can do anything if I only want to enough. And yet, we all know that isn't the case. Because if it were so, we'd all be worshiping at the shrine of Noman Vincent Peal (The Power of Positive Thinking) or The Secret would no longer be one because we would have all attracted money, love and power and either destroyed each other by now or engaged in a world wide group hug.

Okay, I am being extreme. So seriously, what's the deal? Why is it that I, for instance, am capable of sticking to a diet and exercise plan for sixth months of every blessed year and not at all for the other six months? And why is it that though we want to love our irksome neighbor, for some reason we can't? Well, I have both good and bad news. It's because of our brains!

That's right! Researchers have discovered that in the frontal lobe -- where free will is thought to "reside" -- there is also a veto power. And this veto power can override a "conscious" decision. So you may make a conscious decision, for example, to stop smoking. And when the impulse to light up hits you, you can say no. That's where the veto power comes in. It overrides your conscious decision. It becomes active when you inhibit an impulse. It really explains why some people have more trouble than others in breaking bad habits.

Did I promise some good news? Oh yes. We can retrain the veto control by practicing the more desirable habit over and over. This is where support systems, plans and processes all come into play. Repeating that new, chosen behavior over and over retrains the brain. So get yourself a plan, a cracker-jack support partner and your odds of success will be greatly improved. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Heroes Proved

My sessions of vivid dreaming have returned with the cooler evenings;  I think the extremely hot summer nights cooked the dreams right out of me.  Last night I dreamed of a knock on the door and an unfamiliar person.  Since we have only a peephole and no window, I couldn't clearly see the person.  I could only tell it was a child, male and not one I quickly recognized.  Because I was busy with other things, I decided not to answer the door to the child whom I assumed was selling things.  Yet he kept knocking.  So insistent was he with his rapping at the door that I looked again and this time could make out a dad and younger sibling nearby.  I surrendered.

The boy at the door was dressed in dark green and wearing a kufi.  His father, apologetic, explained to me that the child was supporting the effort in Kandahar.  Using his own money, he had gone to Walgreens and purchased a number of watches.  He was reselling the watches for donations.  The tears immediately started rolling down my face as I dug through my purse and fished out a $20.  As he handed me the watch I could see that he had scotch taped it to a piece of paper with a lot of childish writing on it.  The dad asked, "Are you all right ma'am?"

Through my tears I replied, "Yes.  It's just the war.  So much tragedy."

Then I woke up, as bolt upright as if a bell had rung.  Perhaps it had.

Lately I cannot stop thinking about the men and women of our armed forces.  Maybe it is because for the first time, I have sons.  I grew up in the era of the Vietnam War draft.

I am grateful for those who, at great personal cost, serve our country. Regardless of the controversial nature of wars, those who fought and those who now fight are heroes.  I find myself singing over and over the hundred year old hymn by Katherine Lee Bates, "America the Beautiful." All the verses are compelling but the third verse keeps bringing me to tears:

O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov'd,
And mercy more than life.
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.